SIOUX CITY, Iowa — It shouldn't be too hard to make headlines in Sioux City. On any other day, the lead story in these parts would be the debate over the proposed rail line that would connect the Quad Cities to Moline. Or, as KMEG reporter Dena Richardson notes, "Well, it's Friday, which means high school football around here."
But this is campaign season, when Sioux City tends to host more world leaders than Camp David; it's hard to steal the spotlight in this corner of Iowa.
So pity poor John Edwards, who set up camp this afternoon at Western Iowa Tech Community College only to find himself sharing the stage (and the top of the evening newscast) with one of his chief rivals. Because while Edwards greeted voters at a town hall, Senator Barack Obama was about eight miles down the road (past the fantastically vintage Rollerama, Jim's Lounge and the Bamboo Garden Cafe) doing the exact same thing. For Edwards, the stage was a technical college specializing in nursing, carpentry and computer programming. For Obama, the backdrop was West Middle School (everyone says he skews younger). But for both men, the mission and the method (and, in some cases, the audience members and the news crews) were the same.
In their bids to sway Sioux City voters as the Iowa caucus approaches, both men relied heavily on their greatest hits — Edwards hitting corporate responsibility, universal health care and a rollback of tax breaks for the wealthy; Obama sounding off on Darfur, affordable education and his ability to "bring people together." And both men peppered their live sets with subtle jabs at the other chief combatant in the three-way battle royale for Iowa: Hillary Clinton.
"You don't hear me saying different things in front of different audiences," Obama told his Sioux City audience. "I am consistent. You don't hear me changing my tune."
Edwards mounted a similar offensive, reacting to recent suggestions that Clinton had shifted her stance on some key issues as part of her move from "primary mode to general election mode."
"Did y'all have a caucus and I wasn't here?" he joked. "You can't say one thing now and another thing later."
The import of the battle for Iowa — the first state in the nation to choose its candidates — can't be overstated, and the crimes of insincerity and pandering are serious offenses to voters here. "Every four years, candidates come rolling through Iowa, but nothing seems to change," Edwards said. "If you trade a group of corporate Republicans for a group of corporate Democrats, nothing ever will change."
For her part, Clinton called in reinforcements — on Thursday, former President Bill Clinton was up the road in Onawa, telling voters, "She's tough and she's smart and she's disciplined and she can definitely win." (The tough, smart and disciplined candidate was in New Hampshire at the time, presumably taking additional steps to assure that she can, in fact, definitely win.)
And if the posturing and potshots don't work, there's always straight-up flattery. "If someone told me that you can have more influence on who is the next leader of the free world than anyone else in the world, well I'd take advantage of that," Obama told Iowa voters of their "first in the nation" responsibility.
From Sioux City, Edwards rolled on to events in Carroll and Jefferson, Iowa, while Obama headed to Des Moines, both men seemingly in a pact to leave no inch of Iowa highway untouched. But as all the candidates continue to fawn over Iowa (like the girl they all want to take to prom), we won't know until January if it pays off at the caucus. On Friday (November 9), however, there was evidence that it earned Obama at least one new supporter (and a souvenir). Beverly Snow Peterson, an American Indian resident of Sioux City, made the trip to West Middle School, in her words, "to see what kind of person he is." Moved by his speech and his "down to earth" approach, she gave the senator the handmade beaded necklace she had been wearing. "I made it myself with love, but for no one in particular. After hearing him, seeing what kind of person he is, I wanted him to have it."